• leptin;
  • melanocortin;
  • food intake;
  • Cre/loxP;
  • hypothalamus


Recent research has identified a number of genes playing critical roles in the central regulation of energy homeostasis. Subsequently, models of the neurocircuitry regulating energy balance have been suggested, although their physiological relevance remains mostly untested. Using the Cre/loxP system, we can now genetically dissect these neurocircuits and establish the specific roles of these genes in small neuronal subpopulations. Here we focus on two receptors shown to be critical in the central regulation of energy homeostasis: leptin (LepR) and melanocortin-4 receptors (MC4R). Mice and humans deficient in either leptin or melanocortin signaling are severely obese. A prominent model of leptin action places the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, and in particular arcuate proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, at the center stage of energy balance regulation. By deleting LepR specifically from POMC neurons in mice, we showed that LepR on POMC neurons are required but not solely responsible for leptin's regulation of body weight homeostasis. Thus, LepR on other neurons must also be critically important in leptin-mediated regulation of body weight homeostasis. Data from MC4R-deficient mice have shown that MC4Rs regulate both sides of the energy intake/energy expenditure balance. Our recent experiments used MC4R-deficient mice with restored MC4R expression only in the paraventricular hypothalamus and a subpopulation of amygdala neurons. We showed that MC4Rs in the paraventricular hypothalamus and/or amygdala are sufficient to control food intake but that MC4Rs elsewhere control energy expenditure, thereby discovering the novel concept of functional and anatomical divergence of MC4Rs.